Phuket - the good, the bad and the ugly

Wednesday, June 27, 2018
Prior to booking a stay in Phuket, we heard quite the amount of negative and positive feedback from travel writers. It was clear, people either loved Phuket or hated it. I'm here to tell you what I would do differently if I ever found myself in Phuket again.

Phuket is a southern province of Thailand and the country's largest island, located in the Adaman Sea. We opted to stay in Patong Beach due to the proximity of our excursions and ease of island hopping and. Patong is the most tourist populated area in Phuket. However we were at the beginning of off season so it wasn't busy. Patong is also home to the nightlife in Phuket, so that helped our decision as well. Here's a breakdown of the areas we visited in Phuket. Note, we did not see the whole island so please take that into consideration when reading this post.

Patong Beach

Patong Beach
We spent 5 nights at Patong Beach. 3 should have been our max (2 really). So here's the nitty gritty on Patong Beach. We stayed at a place called Kee Resort and Spa. The pool and facilities were nice but I'll leave it at that. Every time we left our hotel, we were bum-rushed by men trying to sell the boys custom suits. We passed multiple massage parlors where you could get a 300 baht massage ($9 USD) and everyone was polite when we were with the boys. The one time they went out on their own, they were physically grabbed, the women trying to pull them in to give special massages. Yes, this is a real thing. Kee Resort was also located on a side street which leads you onto Bangla Road....

Bangla Road
Bangla Rd. reminded me a great deal of Bourbon Street. People in your face trying to get you to go into bars for drink specials. People trying to get you to attend Ping Pong shows while shoving insane menus in your face of things people shouldn't be able to do with human body parts. It was fun to see it once but not fun to have attached to your hotel room for 5 nights.
Simons Caberet
We attended the "must see" lady boy show called Simons Caberet. It was a cute show, very PG and family friendly but after the show, the Lady Boys lined up for photos, and only after a really bad pic was taken, they demanded 500 baht. I don't have much to say positive about Patong Beach and I would never stay there again. With that said, I don't want my opinion of Patong to reflect Phuket. We were warned, there are 1001 blog posts about this, we just chose not to listen.
Sunset on Patong Beach
As I mentioned above, one of the reasons we decided to stay in Patong was it seemed to be a good centralized home base for the ease of excursions. All three excursions we did picked us up at our hotel (FYI they do not pick up at Air BNB). They picked up other passengers from the other beaches, so ultimately we did not have to stay in Patong. We also never did island hopping as we originally planned.
Dog on the Beach in Patong
There are many nice places to visit there and overall, I really did enjoy Phuket Beach. Continue on for the nightmare on how we got from Patong Beach to Krabi Island.

Kata Beach

Kata Beach
We took a tuk-tuk from Patong to Kata Beach for 400 baht ($12 USD) and our driver dropped us off at a Public Beach that had an outdoor market directly on the beach. Super convenient and they had every type of food you could imagine!
We found the sweetest vendor who allowed us to borrow their chairs for free and made our beach drinks (rum in the coconut!). After floating on our new doughnut floats that we purchased for 250 baht each ($7.50 USD), we headed down to the southern part of Kata to take a stab at surfing.
Surfing rates in Kata Beach
My husband and I are both from Daytona Beach. He is an amazing surfer, I cannot stand up on the board (I tried, so credit is owed there). During our time at Kata, I really wished that we stayed there vs. Patong. It's easy enough to get to Patong if you want the party scene but it had a sense of serenity that Patong was missing.

Old Phuket Town

Old Phuket Town
We did the Real Phuket Sight Seeing Tour with Phuket Lets Go, which took us all around Phuket, showing us the real parts of the island. I was very sick that morning and it took everything out of me to go but we had to  leave the group halfway through the tour. Two of the things I really wanted to do in Phuket was visit Old Phuket Town and see Big Buddha. If you plan on seeing these things, I suggest booking a tour like we did, or the taxi fair alone will be astronomical. It was going to be 1000 Baht to get a taxi from Big Buddha to our hotel but luckily we were driven to the bottom and grabbed one for 800.
Old Phuket Town was incredible and very different than any other place we saw in Thailand. Old Phuket Town is noted for Sino-Portuguese buildings on both sides of the street. Many old buildings have been converted into shops, hotels, restaurants and museums.
One of the coolest shops we went into was an old medicine shop. They have remedies for everything you could possibly imagine. It was incredible to see and wish I would have brought some of this home with me!
On On Hotel
Also, the movie The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio had the hotel scene (On On Hotel) filmed here. The architecture was incredible and I wish we had more time (when I felt better) to explore all the shops and restaurants.

Big Buddha 

Although I was on the verge of passing out at Big Buddha, it still took my breath away. Unfortunately, I could not make the climb up so I stayed at the bottom. Gabe got to go up and he took quite a few pics for me while I sat back and enjoyed the view.

Big Buddha is one of the newer Buddha landmarks, which construction started in 2004. It's still not complete because it relies on public funding. While waiting for the group, I noticed a few shops where you could by snacks, souvineers and coconut ice cream from.
The dress code is strict for women but much loser for men vs. Bangkok temples. If you don't come dressed appropriately, you can rent a cover up there. Definitely worth the trip up, but look into renting a car or take a tour vs. a taxi as that would be a very expensive trip.

Khao Rang Hill Viewpoint

Khao Rang Viewpoint
We had an opportunity to check out the viewpoint at Khao Rang Hill right before heading up to Big Buddha. We saw some incredible views of the city leading into the ocean. If you find yourself over there, it's worth a trip and they have a restaurant (that wasn't open yet when we were there).

Street Art

Street art on the Beach in Kata
There is so much street art in Thailand. I felt like we were in competition as to who could take the most photos of street art! One of our favorites was Alex Face, who has his signature character named Mardi all over the town. Here are a few we found!
Alex Face

Alex Face

Alex Face

Alex Face
Overall, we did have a great time in Phuket. I wouldn't stay in Patong Beach again but wouldn't say no to going back as there is so many lovely areas in Phuket. I will say, we were very happy to leave, which brings me to the ending of our time in Phuket..........

Getting from Phuket to Krabi
If you need to go from Phuket to Krabi, I strongly suggest reading this very long storey. When we booked our hotel and location in Patong, we didn't realize the Ferry to Krabi was on the other side of the island. That ferry is 3 hours long and left at 8:00 in the morning, meaning we would have had to be up and checked out by 6:00 to make it across town (take the ferry regardless of the time, trust me). So we decided to do what was one of the biggest mistakes of our entire trip - set up transportation from Kee Resort. We paid 3500 Baht for an air conditioned van transfer. That is $110 USD. We were told it was a 3-4 hour car ride and the van picked us up at 10am. To our surprise, there was another couple in the van. Our next surprise came 30 minutes later when we were taken to a bus station and we had to transfer to another van, which had hardly any AC and was seconds from falling apart. This was when the nightmare began. The driver stopped at every single bus stop on the way, picking up random strangers. Then another bus stop. We eventually arrived at the terminal to take us to the marina, only to be told that the long boats had stopped transfers to Railay West where we were staying. That it wold cost us an additional 100 baht per person and we had to be taken to a northern location, then pay to transfer. I luckily had an international plan and called our hotel, only to learn this was a scam. We told him we would stay on the initial track. He got pissed. Really pissed. Once we were on our 3rd van to go to the marina, the driver stopped to pump the equivalent of 5 dollars in gas (his tank was full), stop 3 times to talk to people and drive under the speed limit. The boats stopped running at 5:30 and they were purposely trying to make us miss our boat. He also passed the drop off, which again, thank you international plan - I had the map running without his knowledge. We demanded to get off the van and ran, making one of the last boats to Railay Beach. While I realize this shouldn't reflect Phuket, it kinda does being our hotel staffed someone who 100% scammed us into taking a nightmare trip and wasting more than half of our day.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Phuket

Tuesday, June 19, 2018
When we first started planning our trip to Thailand, my friend Ashley and I had one demand - that we spent a day with elephants. We hadn't done much research on the elephant excursions in Thailand and we both thought at the time that we wanted to ride an elephant. That changed quickly when we started looking into it. Riding an elephant should never happen. I'll talk about that more at the end of the post as I don't want this to be preachy.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is an ethical elephant sanctuary with three locations in Thailand. We visited the one in Phuket where we were given an opportunity to interact with these amazing creatures in the wild. We were able to select between a morning and afternoon tour, we selected the morning and were picked up in an open air truck from our hotel. We drove an hour through the coastline of Phuket and it was absolutely beautiful and breathtaking.
Once we arrived at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, we instantly saw elephants! I squealed like I was a 5 year old seeing Mickey Mouse for the first time. Then I saw a baby elephant and nearly lost my mind.
After a quick introduction on the animals and their backgrounds, we helped bring buckets of fruit to the elephants. If you find yourself doing this tour, here's a tip - grab the watermelon over the bananas! The elephants loved the watermelon.
We spent a while feeding and interacting with the elephants. The baby I saw upon arrival was only 2 months old. He was a crazy kid and reminded me of a puppy. He would copy cat his mom and run all over the place. He even tried ramming people!
Along with the 2 month old, there was also a 2 year old who was much calmer and would allow you to take photos with her! We heard each elephants story, how they were rescued from log camps or the entertainment industry. I made "friends" with a 72 year old who was brought in from a log camp a few months back.
Now you may ask why these rescued elephants are still in a sanctuary vs. being in the wild. Elephants that are no longer considered wild are domesticated and they need all the love and attention that normal household pets receive.
After we fed them, it was time to give them a mud bath!! We covered the elephants in a mud treatment for their skin (we got some on us as well). The elephants loved every moment of this pampering session.
Once everyone was covered in mud, it was time to wash them off and swim with them. Never in a million years would I have thought I would swim in the water with an elephant. The elephants played a bit and sprayed us with water.
After everyone was clean, it was time for a few additional photos. Speaking of photos, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary has a few professional photographers onsite and all the photos taken during your day are free! How incredible is that?
After we said goodbye and changed into dry clothes (there are showers), we were provided with a homemade Thai lunch. The afternoon visit includes two meals. We paid 2500 baht a person (around $75 USD) for this half-day experience. Interacting with the elephants on their land was an incredible experience.
Now I am going to talk about why you should never ride an elephant. Elephants are not designed to carry weight on their back, they are not built like a horse. They have evolved to support a mass amount of weight suspended below their spine. Examination of the skeleton shows instead of smooth, round spinal disks, elephants have sharp bony protrusions that extend upwards from their spine. These bony protrusions and the tissue protecting them are vulnerable to weight and pressure coming from above.
Riding / Trekking camps have been known to make elephants carry people for up to 5 hours. Being forced to work while in the heat of Thailand slowly wears the elephants down as elephants need to cool down and be allowed to eat more then they are provided. They are hurt at these camps guides use hooks to force them to carry tourists which they hit the elephants with, causes bleeding.

Visiting Erawan Falls without a tour, Thailand

Thursday, June 14, 2018
On our recent trip in Thailand, we visited Erawan Falls National Park located a few hours outside of Bangkok. We opted to do this on our own vs. going on a tour as the group tours can cost you upwards of $150 USD per person (which I am very happy we didn't spend). We paid $18 per person and explored Erawan Falls at our own leisure - here is how......

Our hotel offered a pick up and drop off for 2500 Baht ($77 USD). We were amazingly lucky as our taxi driver from the day before handed us a business card and said he would take us to Erawan Falls for 1200 baht ($37 USD). The entrance to Erawan Falls is 300 Baht per person ($9 USD). We each paid $18.25 for transportation and park entrance. Much better than $150!
Erawan Falls was founded in 1975 as Thailand's 12th National Park. It consist of 7 major tiers of waterfalls, accessible by trails and footbridges until the 5th tier. After tier 5, you basically scurry up rocks and hope you don't fall (I slipped 1001 times).
Erawan Falls Level 2
Each of the falls have jaw dropping emerald green waters with fish swimming in them. These are larger versions of the spa fishes, and they will "nibble" on you. I have paid for fish spa's twice in Mexico and will never ever do it again as I have PTSD from Erawan Falls. I did NOT like those fish.
Erawan Falls Level 1
Once we started making the treck, we decided to walk straight up to 7 and visit the falls on the way down to avoid crowds. This was a huge mistake, as it wasn't busy when we got there. By the time we made it back down to level 1, there were so many people that we couldn't enjoy the lower falls. My advice, get there early and start at level 1.
Level 7
The treck up to level 7 was NOT easy. To be honest, as beautiful as it was - I don't know if I would do it again. Erawan Falls was named after the three-headed white elephant of Hindu mythology. The top tier of the falls is said to resemble the elephant's head but I didn't see it.
Erawan Falls Overlook
I found level 2 so amazingly beautiful, and would have been happy staying put there, not putting myself in danger lol. Level 2 has a few food shops and souvenirs. If you want to bring a bottle of water up the trek (strongly recommend it), you have to put down a 20 baht deposit. This helps with the littering. After you pass level 2, you find yourself at a beautiful overlook. Once you get to level 3, the real trek begins.....
Level 5, getting bit by fish
Level 4 is deep and has a smooth rock that you can slide down. It was empty when we walked up, and couldn't figure out how to climb up the rock. On our way down, the rock was very busy - and I had no interest in it after slipping 1001 times. Gabe was the only one of our group to slide down the rock - check out the video below!

We saw a family of monkey's during our trek up. It was a large family, about 10+ of them, including babies. I was in heaven! One of the babies played peek-a-boo with Gabe. Below was one of the larger monkeys.
I will say, if you are not physically fit, trekking up the 7 layers of Erawan falls is not a good idea. All four of us agreed, we would have been OK with not going all the way up. It wasn't easy. We wore close toed shoes with good tread on them and I still found myself slipping all over the place. I left Erawan Falls with an extremely bruised palm, skinned knees and bruises all over my legs. Just in time to head to the Thailand beaches!!!
Eating at Erawan Falls
As I mentioned, there are food stalls at level 2. Aside from that, you can buy food from the outside vendors and bring it in (no food past level 2). There is one sit down restaurant, but it is covered, not inside. The outside carts had instant coffee, so if you want fresh ground coffee there is one that is indoors and it has AC and free wifi.


An amazing getaway at Floathouse River Kwai

Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Our second stop on the Thailand trip was 2 nights in Kanchanaburi to stay at Floathouse River Kwai. We got their by taking a 6 hour train ride from Bangkok to River Kwai (read about it here, and why I think you should absolutely travel this way!).  Once we got off the train, we took an open air truck cab to the marina. Our taxi driver was the nicest guy, and we ended up hiring him to take us to Erawan Falls the following day. More on that later!
After we were dropped off at the marina, we boarded a longtail boat to the floating Bungalows at Floathouse River Kwai. This was the only way to get to the resort and the boatride was quite magical. We were alone in the jungle, on a boat, being delivered to our hotel.
We arrived at Floathouse around 2pm, so our rooms weren't quiet ready. We decided to have lunch and cocktails! When our room was ready, the staff brought us our keys. Overall, everyone there was extremely polite and helpful.
Upon walking in the doors, I knew instantly that this was unlike any hotel or resort I have ever seen. Our room was huge and connected to our friends room.
We shared a deck and the doors to the deck were pocket doors, so you could have the entire space opened. The rooms AC were pretty strong and the beds had a bug net, which we absolutely needed.
Also, the beds were super comfy!
Let's talk about the shower! The showers were enclosed but also had an open window. No one could see in, but it gave you the sensation of being both inside and outdoors. Since we had connecting rooms, our showers were side by side. I was able to have full conversations with Ashley about what we were wearing to dinner, what we were doing the next day, etc. all while showering.
The deck was my "place" for the two days. I loved sitting there, watching the boats go by, or swinging with a glass of wine. One of the things we loved to do was jump off our deck and float in the water. It was a blast. The current was strong enough that we had to wear life jackets and it pulled you from your room, to the end of the resort. We probably did this 20 times. Everyone was loving it!

The onsite restaurant is where we had breakfast each day, which was included in our rooms. The breakfast options were very good. Everything from made to order eggs, omelets, incredible fresh fruit and even curry! I will admit, I ate fried rice for breakfast. We had dinner both nights at the restaurant as well. Here are a few of the things we liked the most!

The serenity of the jungle was the most amazing part of the experience. It was like living inside a sound machine. Overall, I loved our 2 days at Floathouse River Kwai. It was a good split between Thailand and Phuket. If you find yourself wanting to go to Erawan Falls, I suggest staying here. It's off the beaten path (literally).

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